Hull City 0 Stoke City 2: David Marshall backed as Tigers fall into the drop zone
The Tigers have also shipped the most goals from set-pieces – eight – in the Premier League and are in danger of becoming a soft touch after opening their campaign with wins over champions Leicester and Swansea City.
Since then, Hull have claimed just one point from seven games and have dropped into the bottom three while Stoke have climbed out of it on the back of a four-match unbeaten run.
There was not much Marshall could do about either goal from Xherdan Shaqiri as the Potters had little trouble in registering their first away triumph in eight attempts.
The Swiss international was a constant menace and when Marshall had punched clear a corner from him, Stoke wrestled back possession, moved the ball across the edge of the area from the left and Shaqiri cut inside and bent a wonderful 25-yard shot inside the goalkeeper’s left-hand post in the 26th minute.
It was virtually three points in the bag in the 50th when he won a free-kick against Curtis Davies and clipped the ball over the five-man wall and saw it dip inside Marshall’s left-hand post.
The goalkeeper dived bravely at the feet of Wilfried Bony and blocked Joe Allen at the post to ensure there was no repeat of the 6-1 mauling the previous week at Bournemouth.
Phelan remained supportive of his Scottish goalkeeper, who replaced Eldin Jakupovic after the 4-1 defeat against Arsenal.
“I do because we have looked at it, analysed it and probably out of the 16 goals we have given away now since he has been in (including a 2-1 EFL Cup win), I would say two or three, maybe, he could have done better with.
“He is aware of that, he accepts that, but when we have come against the teams that we have come up against, they have been very, very clinical with their finishing and that is always going to be the case at this level.
“We can point fingers and look at everything and criticise very, very deeply but, really, we have to maintain our confidence and our outlook for the future.
“Defeats are hard to take, but you have to take it into perspective. We are new at this level. Stoke have had numerous years at this level and they have some serious quality.
“They have been on the back of a poor run and now they have two straight wins so we have to take everything on the chin.”
Injuries to key defenders have not allowed any stability, but the return of captain Michael Dawson was the one bright spot for the Tigers.
The former England central defender had not played since last season’s play-off final win against Sheffield Wednesday after damaging knee ligaments in pre-season training, but a full game for the development side against Leeds proved he was ready to return.
Dawson was soon marshalling the defence and snuffing out the threat of Manchester City loanee Bony, who has not scored in seven appearances for the Potters. He would have got off the mark in first-half stoppage time when he was fed into the area by Shaqiri had not Dawson got across to make a tremendous sliding tackle at the expense of a corner.
“You want your big players and you want your players with character to come through,” said Phelan.
“What was important was that Michael came into a game where he didn’t feel he was playing catch-up. That was the reason why we didn’t include him last week. Now he feels he is capable of putting in those 90 minutes and he will get that opportunity now.”
Like Stoke, Hull played with a lone striker, Phelan believing Will Keane is better suited to that role than Abel Hernandez, who scored 22 goals in their promotion push.
Keane had an early effort blocked by the arm of Ryan Shawcross, but was denied a penalty – and that was his last threat.
Phelan gave a possible hint of the shape of things to come when he brought on Hernandez, switching to a three-man defence, and the Uruguay international finally tested the Stoke defence in partnership with Keane and then Adama Diomande.
Hernandez netted but Diomande had already been flagged offside and there seemed a lack of belief in the Tigers’ camp that they could get back into it. So it proved.
They suffered another injury blow when Robert Snodgrass, the one player determined to take the game to the Potters, damaged an ankle challenging goalkeeper Lee Grant in stoppage time, making him doubtful for the EFL Cup trip to Bristol City tomorrow.
Looking back to the start of the campaign and reflecting that recent injuries have left them in a similar position, Phelan said: “The thing that did help with the 13 players then was the fact that everybody knew they were playing. They grasped their opportunity in the adversity they were suffering.”
He hopes the current crop who are available will do exactly the same thing.
Hull City: Marshall, Elmohamady, Dawson, Davies, Clucas; Huddlestone (Maguire 68); Meyler (Hernandez 55), Livermore, Mason, Snodgrass; Keane (Diomande 68). Unused substitutes: Jakupovic, Maloney, Weir, Tymon.
Stoke City: Grant, Bardsley, Shawcross, Indi, Pieters; Cameron, Whelan; Shaqiri, Allen, Arnautovic; Bony (Diouf 72). Unused substitutes: Given, Muniesa, Adam, Walters, Crouch, Krkic.
Refereee: K Friend (Leics).